August 3, 2021

NEMA 14-50 and GFCI Breakers — Connecting EV Charging Stations

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9 Min. Read

Article updated on 4/23/2024.

As the EV market continues to grow and the demand for at-home charging stations increases, electrical codes have been amended to require ground fault protection of NEMA 14-50 outlets at residential locations. The new codes have complicated the installation of charging stations since most charging stations already have internal ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. Adding additional GFCI protection is resulting in nuisance tripping of these breakers for customers.

This overview dives into the issue and explores various ways for electrical contractors to overcome the challenge of connecting EV charging stations to the grid.

NEMA 14-50 and GFCI with EV Charging

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) is the trade association for electrical equipment manufacturers in the United States. Electrical outlets and plugs in the U.S. are specified by NEMA, and most standard cooking ranges and electric dryers in your home use a NEMA 14-50 outlet for power.

Electric vehicle charging outlets can also use the NEMA 14-50 standard outlet, and these are becoming more prevalent as EVs gain popularity and customers now require and desire charging stations at their homes.

A NEMA 14-50 outlet A GFCI breaker and a breaker shown in an enclosure

Electrical codes have recently been amended to deal with the influx of these applications around the country. New codes state that a GFCI breaker must be installed on a NEMA 14-50 outlet used for EV charging. A GFCI breaker is designed to prevent a shock hazard when an electrical circuit comes in contact with water. This is a safety precaution to help prevent injury and death.

Does a NEMA 14-50 Outlet Need a GFCI? 

Yes, a NEMA 14-50 outlet used for EV chargers does need a GCFI breaker.  

A GFCI breaker is designed to prevent severe or fatal electric shocks and damages to electrical systems by detecting minute or minimal changes in the current and rapidly breaking the circuit when a ground fault occurs.  

A ground fault can occur as a result of damaged appliances, incorrect wiring, degraded components, or even worn insulation. This requirement is designed to ensure that electricians and their customers are protected from injury in the event that the electricity ever bypasses the circuit wiring and flows through a person into the ground.  

The Nuisance of NEMA 14-50 and GFCI Breakers

GFCIs normally add a layer of protection for users. However, they can also lead to nuisance tripping when used in conjunction with a Level-2 charger that will shut down the associated circuit and halt charging on your vehicle. This will cause headaches for homeowners who will have to continually reset the tripped breakers.

NEMA plugs are also subject to wear and tear with the continual plugging and unplugging of the units. So, in addition to the nuisance breaker trips, the plug life cycle will also be a challenge.

Should You Hardwire Your EV Charger or Use a NEMA 14-50 Outlet?

Hardwiring your EV charger is a more permanent solution. It requires a dedicated circuit, which can be a more reliable method to charge your vehicle. A hardwired EV charger has built-in GFCI protection, but it does come with an automatic reset as long as there is no issue that is causing the GFCI to trip. GFCI protection is an important component to keeping people safe.

There are some questions to ask before you begin to add your charging station to your electrical panel:

A hardwired EV charging station may allow for your charger to deliver more power to your electric vehicle, depending on the charger you select and the model of EV you are charging. While a hardwired connection allows you to deliver more power and charge your EV battery faster, does the panel have enough amperage to handle this increase?  

Most newer homes have 200-amp panels, while some older homes have only 60- or 100-amp panels. With modern appliances and electronic devices in households, moving to 200-amp electric panels will allow older homes to further electrify including adding HVAC, appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers, clothing washers and electric dryers, and other more modern devices that utilize electricity and bring increased energy-efficiency.  

If they have enough amperage, is there enough physical space in the panel?

A circuit for an EV charger will take up 2 slots. Be sure there is enough capacity for the charger to allow for future expansion. If not, you will need to upgrade the electric panel to a larger capacity, particularly if the customer plans for future electrification projects.  

Discussing these options and providing counsel to the customer to consider the long run is especially critical as we enter into an era of increased reliance on technology and electrical infrastructure. 

Benefits of Hardwiring the EV Charger

certified electricians installs hardwired ev charger in customer's home

A hardwired charger is a more stable and permanent solution that requires less cabling and fewer connections.

This could be a good option if the customer has enough capacity and space on the panel or is willing to upgrade the electric panel to support a higher-powered EV charger. You should always review the main electric panel to determine what options are available prior to beginning an EV charger installation. 

Because a hardwired EV charger will not be unplugged or disconnected on a regular basis, these chargers also have a reduced risk of wear and tear over time and less chance of failure. Additionally, a hardwired EV charger will have a neater, cleaner look and the eliminated frustrations of nuisance tripping caused by NEMA 14-50 outlets.

All of this makes for better customer satisfaction in the long run and a more professional-looking job. 

What If the Electric Panel Can’t Handle the EV Load?

If the panel can’t handle the extra load of an EV charger, you have options to propose to the customer. You can suggest upgrading the panel to accommodate the new device, but with the installation fee, permitting, and dealing with the power company for service upgrades, this can be costly for the customer. 

The other option to propose is a load shedding or load management system for EVs. A load shedding device is installed between the Level 2 EV charger and the customer’s electric panel and allows the connection of an EV charger to an electrical panel already at total capacity, depending on the other factors available.  

A load management device will manage and monitor circuits in your electric panel and regulate them via smart sensing technology. It can detect when there is a low enough load in your house, typically when the household is sleeping, and then start to charge the EV.  

If the load in the house picks up, it will sense this increase and stop the charging process until it reduces again, thus eliminating nuisance disconnects and preventing your electric panel from overloading. 

A Game-Changer for Panels at Full Capacity

Load shedding is an effective solution for electrical contractors to propose for EV charging stations because it gives EV owners peace of mind. There is no risk of overloading their panels; EVs can still be charged when needed. 

Load management helps solve the panel capacity issue since it allows certain homeowners, even those who do not have an upgraded panel, to charge an EV at home, but it is not a viable solution for every situation.  

Alternatively, some customers may want to have added control and monitoring over their electrical usage, which can also be provided through a smart electric panel. This type of electric panel can also determine which devices are a priority and shift energy loads to prevent an overloaded panel, with the added benefit of additional control and monitoring to the appliance and even outlet level.  

Who Decides What Kind of Outlet Electrical Contractors Need for an EV Charger?

The National Electrical Manufacturing Association (NEMA) is the trade association for electrical equipment manufacturers in the United States. NEMA regulates electrical outlets and plugs in the U.S.; most standard appliances use a NEMA 14-50 outlet for power. 

Electric vehicle charging outlets can also use a NEMA 14-50 outlet and these are becoming more prevalent as EVs gain popularity and customers now require and desire charging stations at their homes, however, due to the high voltage and continued use of EV chargers for up to 10 hours a night, not all NEMA 14-50 outlets are designed to safely manage this type of load.  

Even with the right type of material, such as a NEMA 14-50 outlet, the quality of materials used is crucial for a safe and successful EV charger installation.

In order to safely charge an electric vehicle with an outlet, a dedicated commercial-grade NEMA 14-50 outlet must be used to ensure the outlet does not degrade over time—potentially leading to melted components, catastrophic damages, or even injury.

Related Reading: Want to Install an EV Charging Station? Why Material Quality Matters

The Case for Qualified Electrical Contractors

Selecting and installing EV chargers and their infrastructure is not a DIY effort.  

The world of EV charging is constantly in flux, and it is challenging for customers without training to succeed with a safe and efficient EV charger installation. It involves work with high-voltage power and low-voltage cabling.  

Because of licensed contractors’ training and knowledge in high and low-voltage electrical work, they are best suited to design and install EV charging systems. Additionally, having installed EV charging systems, electrical contractors are also uniquely qualified to maintain them.  

Ongoing maintenance creates ongoing revenue streams and gives electrical contractors an inside track on repeat business by adding value on every service call. 

Insurers may require the use of licensed electrical contractors. Filing permits are almost always required, and licensed electricians are best suited to do that given their training and knowledge, even more so if they designed the system.

As a licensed electrician with EV charger installation experience and training, you are best suited to support your customers with a safe and efficient EV charging system that meets their needs and can support their future electrification efforts. With the right certifications and knowledge of proper installation, you can bring an added layer of security to your customers in knowing they will be able to charger their EV without worry for years to come. 

How Can an Electrical Contractor Learn More About EV Charging and Electrification?

As the world becomes more electrified and more homeowners look to install EV charging stations to support their driving needs, electricians are at the forefront of the electrification movement.

But without the proper training and experience with EV charger installation, even an experienced electrician can quickly find themselves dealing with frustrated customers, improperly installed EV chargers, and even damages caused by using the incorrect type of materials or techniques.

With rising demand and a growing market for experienced EV charger installers, it’s crucial for electricians to prepare for the energy transition by becoming skilled in EV charger installation. Qmerit can help.

As the largest network of certified EV charger installers in North America, Qmerit is the most trusted EV charger installation partner recommended by automakers, EV charger manufacturers, utilities, businesses, and homeowners alike. Our network of certified electricians has installed more EV chargers and other electrification technologies in the last decade than anyone else in the industry—more than 450,000 EV charging stations in homes and businesses across the U.S. and Canada!

By joining our unique Certified Service Provider program, you can access expert training for workforce development along with lead generation and business management support, among other benefits designed to help you build your business for the future. 

Partner with Qmerit today to learn how to get a head start on building your EV business for the future.